Edmonton born and raised Gerry Isbister has been going to the Kentucky Derby for over 20 years always dreaming that one day he would have one of his own compete in the world’s most famous horse race. That day has come.
Isbister and his partner Jim Bakke have entered Attachment Rate in Saturday’s $3-million Derby at Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s everyone’s dream to have one in the big race in the first week of May even though it’s September now,” said Isbister. “We’re very excited. It’s quite an experience.”
Isbister is believed to be only the third Albertan to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Frank McMahon, a Calgary oilman won the Kentucky Derby in 1969 with Majestic Prince. Cecil Peacock, from Alliance, Alberta, ran fourth in the 2006 with Brother Derek after going into the race as the morning-line favourite. “Who knows?” said Isbister, who has owned horses for over 20 years and even ran a couple of horses in Alberta with trainer Tim Rycroft.
The oddsmakers don’t think so. “They have us at 50-1 on the morning line,” said Isbister. “But the horse’s owners are a little more optimistic than that.” Meanwhile the favourite, Tiz the Law, is 3-5 on the morning line. Tiz the Law has won six of his seven career starts and his last four in a row - all easily - including the Belmont and Travers stakes.
While Attachment Rate will start from post 14 in the 18-horse field, Tiz the Law will start from post 17. As fate would have it the race’s top three choices will all start outside. Honor A.P. got post 16 and Authentic post 18.
It was Attachment Rate’s last start - a good second in the Runhappy Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9 where he earned a career high 120 TimeformUS Speed Figure — that convinced Isbister and Bakke to take a shot in the Derby. “We weren’t going to put him in but he had a very good outing in the Ellis Park Derby. So we went ahead and entered,” said Isbister of a race won by Art Collector, who was expected to be one of the favourites before being scratched out of the Derby earlier this week with a minor foot problem. Art Collector has won five races in a row including the Blue Grass stakes.
“(Attachment Rate) has been getting better and stronger,” said Isbister, who grew up in north Edmonton and then moved to Calgary, where he now calls home, in 1981. “And it’s the Derby where anything can happen. There have been lots of big upsets before; longshots have come in in the past,” said Isbister, who is in the kitchen appliance distribution business across western Canada and the Pacific Northwest. “Honestly we would be pleased if he finishes in the top four or five. But you never know. Lightning may strike.”
As well as his runner-up finish in the Ellis Park Derby, Attachment Rate finished third in the Gotham and second in the Unbridled stake - the latter behind Dr Post, who was second to Tiz the Law in the Belmont. Isbister said Attachment Rate has had excuses in several of his races - bumped and bothered at the start of the Blue Grass; in tight going into the first turn of the Matt Winn and bumped and wide in the Unbridled.
“And in some of his races he refused to change leads,” said Isbister, who has four children including Brad, who played parts of two seasons for the Edmonton Oilers and four years with the New York Islanders. “Like me, Attachment Rate is a bit of a slow learner.”
Attachment Rate has been training well coming into the Derby. On Sunday he breezed five furlongs in 1:01 1/5. "I wanted him to ease up and finish strong. That's what he did," trainer Dale Romans was quoted as saying. “Dale feels he’s ready and happy,” added Isbister. “The work was exactly what Dale wanted him to do.”
Attachment Rate was a $200,000 Keeneland, Kentucky, yearling-sale purchase. His sire is Hard Spun, who, in 2007, finished second in the Kentucky Derby. He also ran third in the Preakness and fourth in the Belmont.
“Attachment Rate is like his sire; he’s a tough, solid horse. “Hard Spun was an honest horse that worked hard and that seems to be Attachment rate too. If the Derby would have been run in May as usual, Attachment Rate wouldn’t have had the points to get into the Derby,” said Isbister, who along with Bakke, currently owns 12 other horses.
“It’s been a different year in all aspects of life. Pushing the Derby to September gave us the opportunity to run. Hopefully he performs. And who knows? Hopefully he has a good route.”
Another top horse Isbister and Bakke own is Mr Freeze, who has won $1.4 million. Mr Freeze started this year finishing second in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and then won the Gulfstream Park Mile. Mr Freeze will run Friday at Churchill Downs in the Alysheba Stakes.
On Saturday Isbister and Bakke will also run a two-year-old, Ultimate Badger, at Churchill. “We usually buy between five and six yearlings a year - almost exclusively at Keeneland. We turn them over if they aren’t successful. Every time you buy a horse at Keeneland you think and hope that maybe one of them will run in the Kentucky Derby. And now here we are.”
Rycroft said he will be watching the Derby with great interest. “Gerry is good buddies with my wife, Lori Going’s brother, Brent. I’ve been watching all the Derby horses really closely. In particular Attachment Rate. When Gerry would come to the races in Calgary he would light up a cigar, have a beer and have some fun. I wish Gerry all the best. He’s excited and good for him. He’s worked hard and spent a lot of money trying to get a good horse. It would be a really big deal.”
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